It’s hard to overstate how big Wii Sports was when it launched in 2006. In a lot of ways, it was one of the first console games to truly crack the broader, non-gamer consumer market.
The Wii became an instant bestseller, with its intuitive controls and familiar concepts making it accessible to people who’d never picked up a gamepad before. Nowhere was this accessibility better executed than the console's bundled sports game. While it might be tough for non-gamers to have a fluid command of a controller, many people know how to swing a bowling ball, which is exactly what the Wii's motion controls required you to do.
Fast-forward 16 years, and the Nintendo Switch, with its own gimmick of being both a home and portable console, is thriving. Its versatility is such a big part of its identity that it’s easy to forget that the Switch features motion controls itself. That’s partially on Nintendo and third-party developers, who’ve failed to fully harness the potential of this feature. Ever since 1-2-Switch, it’s felt underutilized alongside the patented ‘HD Rumble'.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Nintendo Switch Sports would struggle to match the precision of Wii Sports, a game on a console designed entirely around motion controls. However, that's not the case. If anything, the title feels like a reminder of what the Switch’s motion controls can do.
At launch, Nintendo Switch Sports has six activities in the form of Bowling, Chambara, Soccer, Badminton, Tennis, and Volleyball. We played all six of the games at a recent preview event, and below we’ll share our thoughts on how the whole experience is shaping up.
We’re all agreed that this is probably the most important entry on this list, right? If you put any serious time into Wii Sports, we’d bet a lot of that time was put into Bowling. Getting resoundingly beaten by elderly family members was a defining part of the Wii Sports experience for us.
Thankfully, everything that made Bowling in Wii Sports great is captured here. The Switch’s Joy-Con controllers are surprisingly good at tracking whether you’re bowling a straight ball, or if you’re trying to apply curve.
It's not all intuitive though, as you no longer let go of a button to release your ball, instead, it releases automatically at the end of your swing. It's an odd decision that leads to some dropped balls, but once you get used to it, it's fine. This feels like a faithful adaptation of the classic game type – and thank goodness, because messing up bowling in a Nintendo Sports game would be a sin.
Honestly, this was the most fun I had with the preview. Badminton just worked, with my opponent and I enjoying some tense rallies that often went on for more than 10 exchanges, making for close and surprisingly physical bouts.
This mode’s focus really seems to be on tracking what kind of shots you’re attempting, be they drop-shots, overhands, or smashes. If you and a friend are looking to get a little sweaty, and are prone to crying out in relief of scoring a point after a tight back and forth, this one excels.
After walking away from a bout of this sword-fighting game, the lingering sentiment of Chambara was that it required a surprising amount of considered action. While your initial instinct might be to swing wildly to catch your opponent out, it’s a sure-fire way to get a dunk in the pool below the platform on which you’re dueling.
Instead, Chambara works more like a physical game of rock, paper, scissors, requiring you to try and anticipate what your opponent is doing. Matching the direction of your opponent's sword counts as a hit, and successive hits will see them taking the plunge. Hitting an opponent while they’re guarding a different direction will instead leave you stunned, and vulnerable to a counterattack.
It felt surprisingly complex, and it was hard to fully grasp during the first pick-up and play session, but it feels like there’s depth here – this could be a game that’s worth investing some time and practice in to really get the best of out it.
Behind Bowling, Tennis is the other most recognizable returning Wii Sports activity – and like Bowling, the Switch Sports game is thankfully another faithful adaptation. You don’t control your avatar; instead, they will run to the ball automatically, meaning you mostly just have to focus on controlling your swing.
The activity required a decent amount of precision, and the Switch tracks your hits surprisingly well – perhaps a little too well, as a couple of my returns ended up sailing wide of the court, which, of course, had nothing to do with my skill.
In 2015, Psyonix released a revolutionary sports game called Rocket League, which had players driving cars around a pitch, with which they attempted to push a giant ball into a goal. Nintendo has taken a leaf from Rocket League's book, except – get this – it’s removed the cars so you just control your avatar on foot. Nintendo has invented soccer.
Jokes aside, this feels surprisingly similar to Rocket League. Up to four players per team chase the ball and try to score – it’s chaotic and unorganized, but also great fun. This felt like a pretty meaty experience, and one you could actually spend a decent amount of time in, much in the way Psyonix’s game remains replayable.
Soccer (but with your legs)
This is a fun side game in the Nintendo Switch Sports catalog, as it’s the only one that allows you to use your legs directly. The Shoot-Out requires a special leg strap that attaches a Joy-Con to your thigh, enabling you to swing at a ball that’s being crossed to you.
This mode doesn’t feel anywhere near as deep as other games, and we’re not sure that it’s really worth the setup of having to bind a controller to your leg, but it’s a fun gimmick nonetheless.
Nintendo told us that while this is currently the only game type that uses the leg strap, more will be coming in the future.
Volleyball is a fun game to play as a duo. There are four key commands you need to contend with: Serve, which has you hit the ball; Bump, which acts as a pass; and Set, which sets up a player to then Volley, which smashes the ball to score a point. Each has a different motion and making the wrong move at the wrong time will cost you points.
There’s also a blocking component, which allows you to defend against a shot from the opposing team.
My partner and I ended up smashing our AI opponents 5-0 – they were barely able to return the ball, which made it hard to get a feel for how well rallies worked. I guess there’s such a thing as being too good at a game.
There could be a lot of fun to be had duoing online and going up against tougher opponents, as all the components for a fun, competitive game are there – we just didn’t quite get to see it.
That’s a quick overview of all of the games included in Nintendo Switch Sports, and while there were standouts – Badminton, Soccer, and the old faithful, Bowling – none of the six activities disappointed. They’re all great for getting the whole family off the couch and involved.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay Nintendo Switch Sports is that it feels like a rightful successor to Wii Sports, which is a legendarily good game. It’s a whole lot of motion-controlled fun.
Nintendo Switch Sports is out on April 29.